A rare moment of discontent surfacing at Rangers’ AGM was a question about scouting. One brave punter enquired whether or not our staff in that department had actually been expanded or if we were simply relying on Frank McParland’s wee black book, which we’re repeatedly told rivals that of Allan McGregor for length and indeed girth.
The question was largely dismissed and sidestepped, although could perhaps have been reworded or pressed. Or, you know, actually asked by a journalist at some point. True, sometimes we have heard questions asked, but it’s mostly some idiot on Super Scoreboard saying “these boys fae England, are they guid enough, Derek?” with little in the way of serious questioning. Yet there are problems here, and if Mark Warburton’s not careful, it’s going to bite him on the arse. It’s all very well pointing to progress in rebuilding and longer-term goals, but we’re ignoring perhaps the most important structural component of a successful football club altogether, and if you do that, then failing to beat diddy teams becomes a lot less forgivable.
In analysing all this, one of the laziest assumptions bandied about is over the difference between the English and Scottish leagues. The Championship is a far superior league, we're told. League One is about SPFL level. It's just simply better - a matter of raw quality and nothing more. If this simplistic view is the case, one might wonder why the best player for the English 2nd tier champions was so lost up here, and how he stuck out for his poor technical ability. One might also wonder why the best players at that level are a rogues’ gallery of SPFL flops - Beram Kayal, Darryl Murphy, Ross McCormack… it doesn't make any sense at all.
There are certainly plenty of flops in the other direction, of course, but that backs up the point. Scottish football is not just a shite version of English football. It is something else. In football terms, we are after all an entirely foreign country. Yes, the quality is different, but so is the style. We expect this if players are moving between leagues, the struggling to adapt, the questioning whether they'd be suited. It's exactly the same for the SPFL as it is for Holland and Serie A. It's a slower paced league with its talent distributed far more towards technical ability than physicality. More continental, perhaps. The point is, it's not the same.
Which doesn't mean to say we can't get good players from England, of course. Wes Foderingham and James Tavernier have been two excellent finds. But the difficulty has been in repeating the trick. Josh Windass, Jordan Rossiter and Matt Crooks might be as good, if not better. But as Mark Warburton is so fond of saying, it's a difficult market and we're at a huge disadvantage shopping there.
Which leads to the obvious question in response - if England is such a bad market, why have we built our entire recruitment strategy around it? Sure, we can get players the manager knows, but shouldn't we at least be a wee bit brave and try to pick up some players from leagues where far better value is to be found, like Holland, Norway, or Ligue 2? How did getting in players we're more familiar with work out this summer? It was a total disaster.
True, Celtic have found plenty of value in England in recent years, like Fraser Forster and Gary Hooper as well as seemingly Moussa Dembele and Scott Sinclair this season. But Dembele’s impending £90m move to Barcelona notwithstanding, the big sales - and the best players - have been in the form of Victor Wanyama (Germinal Beerschot, £900k) and Virgil van Dijk (Groningen, £2.6m). There’s a balance there - it’s highly unlikely they might have been as successful or as wealthy as they currently are if they spent their entire time trying in England. And there have been a few flops, but there’s no denying where the value is.
While we might have a mixed record in England, which players are likely to be at the level of hauling us to titles or getting sold on for big money? Perhaps only James Tavernier and Wes Foderingham of the current crop are likely to make a serious profit, with the jury still out on Jordan Rossiter and the Accrington boys. You can find good players there, but far more likely you get what you pay for.
At Rangers, we have a serious deficit compared to our rivals. We need to be getting more than we pay for. And we’re not going to do that by only shopping in the most competitive market in football. If we’re going to point to the financial deficit, is it not even more reason to be concerned about how the money we do have is being used?